Self-help never saves you in the situations where you need it most.
Affirmations aren’t going to work when your spouse leaves you. Tony Robbins won’t instantly cheer you up if you listen to his audio tape after getting fired from your job. Tim Feriss’s morning routine means absolutely nothing to working parents with children.
Self-help is meant to serve a few purposes.
First, it’s designed to get you pumped up and inspired but only inspired enough to take action for a short period of time, relapse, and go back to the inspiration well. Self-help uses the “planned obsolescence” strategy companies like Microsoft use for their software products.
Second, it gives you an unrealistic view of the world. Many self-help tropes use black and white concepts because you can’t afford nuance when you’re trying to sell something. You can’t talk about how difficult and complex the process of changing your life can be. You need “ten easy steps,” the “blueprint for success,” or the “one little trick,” to change your life.
Last, self-help also seeks to mostly serve the person giving you the recipe. There is always another mastermind, another seminar, an upsell, an additional method to squeak out more efficiencies and make you more productive.
I used to write self-help articles and books. I’m done. From now on, I’m only going to provide real help.
So what’s the difference?
Real-help accounts for the inherent tragicness of life. It doesn’t tell you what you want to hear. It tells you the ugly yet liberating truths you need to know. Instead of catering to your ego, it shows you where the skeletons in your closet are and forces you to face them.
Real help is founded on this principle: the process of self-improvement is mostly futile.
You’ll work on self-improvement your whole life only to make moderate gains compared to the work you put in (this sounds bad, but it’s a great result). Instead of getting 100 percent better, you’ll get 3 percent better, but that 3 percent makes a huge difference when most everyone stays at zero.
Real-help is…honest. I’m going to tell you the truth from my perspective with the caveat that you should take everything I say with a grain of salt. You’re not going to like some of the things I have to say because they will point you in the direction of your flaws, fears, and shortcomings. As I write more in this tone, I get a similar comment. One reader said, “I both love and fear reading your posts.” Another reader called my writing “brutal, horrifying, and confrontational,” but they meant it in a cathartic way.
I don’t want to tell you half-truths to get $4.99 out of you. I genuinely want to help. Even with this intent, there’s no guarantee that everything (or anything) I tell you will work out exactly the way you want it to. No one can promise you that. Life itself, by definition, almost guarantees this doesn’t happen .“God laughs at your plans.”
I’m going to be tough on you. I’m not here to stroke your ego or sell you dreams you can’t reach. Why take this tone? Because people usually change based on a foundation of pain and tough realizations, the equivalent of standing in front of a mirror completely naked and examining every inch of your body.
I’ll explain in-depth throughout the book, but here are some of the core philosophies and concepts I’m going to cover in the book. They all tie back to the concept of living in the world as it is. Hyper-realism, effort, and the ability to persist in developing both while the world tries to get you to do the opposite — these are the keys to success.
Rationalizing is 1,000 times easier than facing the truth about yourself. You’re not nearly as virtuous, kind, hardworking, and deserving of success as you think you are. The good news? You also lie to yourself when you’re being overly negative. Your inflated sense of self lies, but so does your inner critic. Kill both and you have a better understanding of the world and your role in it.
You don’t know anything about anything, yet you’ve made tons of conclusions, assumptions, and beliefs, all of which are based purely on emotion and only backed up by reasoning after the fact. Even worse, your whole belief system is arbitrary. I restart your life in a different country, with different parents, in a different socio-economic setting, you’re totally different. As Scott Adams says, you’re a “moist-robot,” being programmed by the environment around you, all the while thinking you have agency over your life and form your opinions on your own.
I’m just as guilty of this as you are. My only advantage? I’m aware of it. Maybe you’re aware of it too, but you’ll only change when you stop paying lip service to ignorance and truly accept your role in fooling yourself constantly.
See the point about rationalization. You make up excuses for why you’re living under your potential. You’re afraid to be yourself, own what you want, and ask for it.
There is no honor in this. If you believe this makes you virtuous you’re using a guise to fool yourself. You want more. And when you fail to get what you want, you inject that bullshit attitude to everyone you know, including the people you love. Your failure to live up to your potential harms them, too. Jung once said, “The greatest tragedy of the family is the unlived lives of the parents.” How ironic is it that parents use their kids as excuses to “be there for them” only to cause damage by living a shell of the life they really want? You could do more, be more, and have more, all while taking care of your responsibilities. These aren’t mutually exclusive goals.
Increasing competence makes you like yourself more and builds confidence. Nothing else works as well. Fake “self-care,” definitely doesn’t achieve this. It can even be counterproductive. I’m not saying you should beat yourself up or adhere to faulty stands. I’m telling you that you’re wired to compare yourself to other people, seek status and, and have an innate desire to be productive and succeed. Ignoring your wiring doesn’t make it go away.
If you think the media creates false conceptions of beauty, success, and worth, you’ve really just admitted that you think the media creates reality instead of…you. If you think the politicians are ruining your life, you’re letting them set the frame for your existence. All the perceived barriers in your life are (mostly) imaginary. Even if there are some tangible barriers in your life, you still overestimate their difficulty because you’ve never established your own frame for your life. You’re living a movie that someone else wrote the script for.
You can do everything right and still fail. Circumstances can knock your life completely out of balance. You will experience a tragedy in your life. Statistics say you’ll have a major health issue at some point in your life. You’ll try things that won’t work in your life, business, career, and relationships. People less talented than you are will leapfrog you due to luck or nepotism. Sometimes, people will be cruel to you for no apparent reason. If you try to succeed, you’ll breed envy and people will try to knock you from your pedestal. Success won’t cure you and there’s no path to a problem-free life. These are just a few examples of the point I’m making. Life is hard. Pretending like it’s not won’t help you. Being prepared for it all will.
People seem to believe they can rise above human nature. You can try to live life as if there are no underlying rules that govern it, but that doesn’t make the rules go away. Worse, the fact you’re unaware of or ignore them will make things hurt ten times as bad when they happen. The more you hold onto your ideas about the way the world should work, the further away you’ll move from the life you want to live. I’m not right about everything and I try to revise my opinion, but much of my improvement came from embracing and believing things I knew to be true but didn’t want to believe.
Are you feeling inspired yet?
I wrote this book because, deep down, people are ready to hear the truth. Both ends of the pendulum are wrong. The “believe in yourself!” chest thumping guru is wrong. The politicians and pundits who tell you the sky is falling are also wrong. Pollyanna and nihilism both miss the point. Neither account for the polarity of real-life. Ups and downs give life its flavor.
Real-help is the process of adapting your behavior to the situation at hand. Sometimes, it makes sense for you to beat yourself up, feel dissatisfied, and direct your negative energy toward work. Sometimes you’ll need to take a step back, take care of yourself, recharge, and start again.
You’ll do really well and then experience setbacks that make you want to quit. You’ll doubt yourself constantly, but given a long enough period of practice, you’ll persist with a growing sense of confidence and realism combined.
In the end, you’ll never get better because there is no end point to the process. There’s no mountain top. You’ll never “arrive.” Life promises you an adventure and nothing more. Once you realize the adventure itself — ups and downs included — is the entire point, you’re free.